NEW YORK - This is Fleet Week in New York City, an annual rite of celebration and memorial solemnity that will give an estimated 1,500 service personnel from the Coast Guard, Navy and Marines a chance to experience the Big Apple up close, and offer New Yorkers a chance to mingle with members of the armed forces who are often out of sight on bases or serving abroad.
As a Coast Guard cutter festooned with the pennants of many nations passed by Wednesday morning on its way to its Hudson River berth, Susan Marenoff-Zauzner took a moment in the shadow of the Intrepid, the aircraft carrier that houses the military museum she runs, to express excitement about the week ahead.
“Historically the Intrepid is a hub of activities during Fleet Week. It makes us so proud to be able to host activities that ensure that the men and women coming off these ships get the thank you they deserve.”
It is also a rare opportunity for New Yorkers board a military vessel and to mix with service members.
“It’s very interesting,” said Katherine Kine, a singer, as she craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the USS Oak Hill, the navy vessel that is the Fleet Week flagship. “I’ve never had family in the military; I am very disconnected from that life. So this gives me a close up view of their everyday lives and activities.”
Personal pride, public displays
Fleet Week is a personal affair for Ralph Steele of New Jersey. He was waving through a chain link fence at his son, who was standing on the deck of his cutter, waiting to come ashore. “And hopefully we’ll be able to see him a couple of times while he’s down here,” said Steele. “It makes you proud to have your son in the military and doing the right thing."
Both civilian and service personnel do a double take when the American Bombshells
walk by arm-in-arm. They are a patriotic group of entertainers dedicated to giving moral support and appreciation to active military members.
“For me it is very important to use what I do for a living, my talents, my drive, my passion for something that matters,” said blonde "Bombshell" Stephanie Leone, a singer. “And for me, supporting our troops matters." Rayna Bertash, a redhaired "Bombshell," nodded her agreement. “It is such a wonderful thing to be able to walk over, shake their hand, and thank them for their service. Every Fleet Week is so meaningful and so special, and we are just so blessed to be a part of it.”
Fleet Week will climax on Monday, Memorial Day, when remembrance and gratitude for the fallen -- rather than wild celebration -- will be the mission. The ceremonies will be held at the Intrepid Museum.
“It’s all about paying tribute to and commemorating and honoring those that paid the ultimate sacrifice… who gave their lives for our freedom,” explained Susan Marenof-Zauzner." And it’s just very moving. We have over a thousand people here, the general public comes off the street and [they all] want to be able to bow their heads and say ‘thank you.’ It’s very tremendous and its very poignant and meaningful.”
Until then, New Yorkers can expect to see excited men and women in uniform taking aim at the Big Apple’s many wonders, and waging battle with the city’s crowded sidewalks and subways.